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Poland probes state oil group’s Swiss subsidiary for alleged Hizbollah links

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Polish prosecutors are investigating whether Orlen, the state-controlled oil and gas company, had links to the Lebanese militant group Hizbollah via its Swiss trading subsidiary. 

Prosecutor Małgorzata Adamajtys said on Tuesday the investigation would look at whether Orlen Trading Switzerland (OTS) had “connections with terrorist organisations”, in reference to Iran-backed Hizbollah. Orlen disclosed in early April that it was auditing OTS following a loss of 1.6bn złoty ($408mn) on its trading activities.

The probe is the latest in a string of investigations into alleged politically motivated actions by Orlen that have been launched since Prime Minister Donald Tusk took office late last year. In February, Tusk ousted Orlen chief executive Daniel Obajtek, who had been appointed by the previous rightwing government.

The former head of Orlen Trading Switzerland, who has only been named by prosecutors as Samer A., denies any wrongdoing. He left the company in February when Obajtek and other senior executives at Orlen were removed.

“I fully deny any contact to Hizbollah and any other political group at all,” he told the Financial Times on Wednesday. He said he was now preparing his own lawsuits in “various courts” to clear his name. “I truly have no clue about those fairy tales.” 

The probe was launched after Tusk on Monday said he had contacted the general prosecutor about “the billion-dollar loss and possible links with Hizbollah”.

Israel’s ambassador in Warsaw, Yacov Livne, congratulated the Polish authorities for initiating the investigation: “Hizbollah terrorists and the Iranian regime pose a huge threat to global security,” he wrote on social media platform X.

Adamajtys said she wanted to establish whether Orlen’s former management had ignored warnings from its own internal security team about OTS. She also questioned how the head of the Swiss subsidiary could have authorised trades that turned into big losses.

“A person who makes advance payments without completion of the first tranches of certain deliveries is not a good CEO and should not be the CEO of this or any other company,” she said.

But Samer A., who has Polish citizenship, said: “I did nothing irregular to oil trading standards.” He accused the Polish prosecutor of behaving “like an HR officer rather than a law protector, as obviously she was emotionally charged against me”.

A spokesperson for Switzerland’s Federal Prosecutor said Orlen’s Swiss subsidiary was not currently under investigation in the country, despite the probe in Poland.

Polish prosecutors are separately investigating other Orlen transactions made while Obajtek was CEO, as well as its domestic fuel pricing policies.

In February Poland’s public audit office issued a report claiming that Orlen sold assets for $1.24bn less than they were worth in order to complete a merger with Lotos, its smaller domestic rival. As part of the deal, Saudi Aramco underpaid by about 3.5bn złoty to acquire a 30 per cent stake in Lotos’s Gdansk oil refinery, according to the Polish audit office.

During last year’s election campaign, Tusk accused Obajtek of misusing Orlen to help the Law and Justice party (PiS) stay in power. He also claimed Orlen had leveraged its media ownership to promote the PiS.

Tusk has described Obajtek as “one of Putin’s greatest oligarchs” and accused him of delaying a decision to end imports of cheap Russian oil following Moscow’s all-out attack on Ukraine in 2022.

Obajtek has denied any wrongdoing. After he was fired from Orlen, PiS added his name to its list of candidates for the European parliament elections in June. 

Additional reporting by Sam Jones in Berlin

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